When I first took a yoga class, it was in Santa Cruz California, and was suitably New Age for its hippy beach town locale. Although we did many of the classic poses and vinyasas, we also spent one entire class massaging our abdominals because un-knotting our internal organs would help us fight off colds. The instructor was spectacularly lithe and athletic, with lean, tight muscles that would allow him to writhe his body into all manner of unnatural positions, but he also said things that made the scientist in me squirm. Yoga is about stillness; squirming is bad.
When I took my first yoga classes at the Sports Club LA, a fancy gym here in NYC, I was introduced to a different class of catty yoga instructor. There were two of these, one of whom is no longer teaching, another who is. Apparently in this style of class it was Ok for the instructor to mutter things such as, “you, over there, your not being present is ruining it for all of us” and to audibly scoff at people attempting poses, adding “if you can’t do it, as most of you I see can’t, don’t even try”. There was also a male instructor who once touched every single part of my body during Shavasana. As he instructed the class to relax first your toes, then your legs, then your arms, etc…, working slowly up to the face, he placed his hand on that part of my body. I was not at the front of the class, having placed myself unobtrusively in the middle, to the side, and so was shocked and horrified at the personal attention I was suddenly receiving, when not expecting it, with my eyes closed. As the rest of the class slowly relaxed, I was becoming tenser and tenser, wondering which part of my body would be bodily “relaxed” next.
Finding the right yoga class for you is extremely important, because it truly is about more than just performing the moves. When I finally found my wonderful Monday night instructor (Angel), I learned how transcendent class can be when you are able to fully merge the movements with your breath. There is no question that controlled breath can have a myriad of physical effects on your body, including muscle relaxation and promoting a meditative state. When that breath is combined fluidly with strong, graceful movements, the benefits seem to outweigh those of the exercises themselves. Perhaps it is a coincidence of styles, but Angel’s timing works perfectly with my breathing, something I had never experienced in previous classes.
Her class is perfect for me because the movements are intense and she warms us up with a series of rapid Vinyasas that always get my heart rate up, even when I am in prime running shape. There is a combination of strengthening and stretching poses that allows me to get both a work out and the all to important stretching, too often neglected by runners, including myself. She also takes the meditative aspect seriously. After Shavasana I am often light-headed and surprisingly relaxed. Her voice is kind and soothing, but without being painfully New Age.
Quite simply, I love this yoga class, and this was where I was rushing off to rapidly on Monday evening when I snapped this shot in a open diner. After class I did three miles on the gym treadmill, where, quite disturbingly, my knee started to hurt. It was after Yoga, which can strain the knees; on the treadmill, which can mess up form, and without my brace. I plan to not make much of it– unless it continues of course.